Ninja Thunderbolt (1984)

Joseph Lai and Godfrey Ho may have done their dark ninja magic to hundreds of films but this was the first. Lai had already been redubbing martial arts films for the rest of the world for years, but when he made it to Cannes that year, he saw that Enter the Ninja was a big deal or so the story goes. Yes, we’re in the world where Cannon is the giant to a studio, which is kind of like how The Incredible Shrinking Man eventually fell through dimensions as his atoms decreased in size and mass, changing the rules of how he once saw reality.

Richard Harrison was born in Salt Lake City, made his way to Hollywood and did some smal;l parts before marrying Loretta Nicholson, the daughter of American-International Pictures co-owner James H. Nicholson. Frustrated by his fortunes domestically, he headed off to Italy where he spent the next twenty years, making peblum (Perseus Against the MonstersThe Invincible Gladiator), westerns (the incredibly named God Was in the West, Too, at One Time), Eurospy (Secret Agent Fireball) and even appearing in Joe D’Amato’s Orgasmo Nero and writing Bruno Mattei’s Scalps before working all over Eastern Europe and Asia. Wherever there were movies, there was Richard Harrison. And after Godfrey Ho, well, there were tons of the same movie and similar titles all with his name as the star.

He’s also how Clint Eastwood became a huge star.

When Sergio Leone came to the set fo Rawhide looking for someone to star in his movies, he wanted Eric Fleming to the guy but was put off by his personality. Enter Harrison, who recommended Clint.

“In my opinion, it is a death wish for an actor to be in too many B or should I say C movies. Maybe my greatest contribution to cinema was not doing Fistful of Dollars, and recommending Clint for the part,” said Harrison.

As for working with Ho — who he first met when he made Marco Polo for Shaw Brothers — Harrison would tell Nanarland, “Twice I went to Hong Kong to work for them, and even though the quality of the films were very poor my wife and I enjoyed Hong Kong very much, and the crew was mostly made of nice people. Then Mr. Tomas Tang contacted me to make a film for him. I told Godfrey about the offer in strict confidence, but he told Mr. Lair, who told me I could not do the film. Naturally, I told him that after I finished my contract with him I was free to work with whomever I wished. Mr. Lai contacted a friend who was a tax man and was told I owed quite a bit of money in taxes. When I showed that my contract stated I would not be responsible for any taxes in Hong Kong, the man said it was not valid. I agreed then to do another film for Mr. Lai to pay the taxes. There was no script, only sides. Nothing made any sense, but the stories usually didn’t. Then a young English boy warned me to be careful because they were pulling some type of dirty trick on me. To be quite honest with you I was not too worried as all the work I had done for them was so bad I was sure no one would ever see them outside the cutting room. Also, during this last film or films, our living conditions were not good. My first call came from Germany telling me how bad the films were and they had only bought them because they trusted me. I have no idea how many films they made from my last filming, but some say as many as ten. I put a lot of trust in friendship, so it hurt more than just professionally.”

How hurt was he by this? Pretty hurt: “This experience made me feel very dirty. I really felt like a prostitute. They were thrown in my face all the time. I saw part of one once, it had something to do with witches. I don’t think I had more than a couple of scenes in it…I felt helpless in Hong Kong. This was the reason I stopped caring about acting. I really felt dirty and used. Again, I will say I had no one to blame but myself for being so trusting.”

As with most Godfrey Ho movies, Ninja Thunderbolt has twenty minutes of ninjas spliced into another movie, in this case To Catch A Thief. There’s also an actor named Jackie Chain in the cast. This would not be the Jackie Chan that you know.

The ninjas start the movie with all the rules of belonging to the ninja temple and saying badass black metal lyrics like “When the gods are angry, we must kill the gods! If the spirits of the dead rise against us, we must kill them as well! Our blood is motivated by ninja spirit!”

Then it turns into a caper movie about stealing a jade horse.

Then somehow, after a really explicit and almost pornographic scene — I’m no prude, I was just shocked that it was in this — ninjas on rollerskates chase someone and that’s what I’m watching these movies for.

So where’s Richard Harrison? He’s a cop named Richard Lawman, which of course he is, and he’s also a ninja. A ninja cop. He’s also the boss of one of the characters in the footage from To Catch a Thief and that means that they can only take via the multiversal phone that all Godfrey Ho movies use to bridge years and continents and films.

Whenever a ninja movie has a multicolored smokebomb go off, just know that I am smiling.

You can watch this on Tubi.

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